By Akhtar Arjmandi
Translated by Omid Ghaemmaghami
[Translator’s Note: Akhtar Arjmandi maintains a blog dedicated to the defense of Iran’s Baha’i Community where she refutes attacks made against Baha’is in the Iranian press and in Persian anti-Baha’i polemical works. The following report was published on her blog on Monday, 12 January 2009]
Anti-Baha’ism is beginning to take on new dimensions! Until now, Baha’is were accused of being cohorts of the Pahlavi regime and held responsible for every offense and setback that occurred in Iran before the Islamic revolution. More recently, every Mulla in Iran has been blaming the Baha’is for everything that fails to conform with his vision of the Islamic Republic.
In the past few days, I came across two astonishing reports. First, the Isfahan branch of the Iranian Qur’an News Agency (IQNA) announced that Ayatollah Tabataba’i, the Friday prayer leader in Isfahan, declared in a speech following Friday prayers at Imam Khomeini Square last week, “This year, in the ceremonies mourning the martyrdom of Imam Husayn (peace be upon him), many of the inappropriate behaviors that called these ceremonies into question were less visible and many of the customs that were innovated in the Qajar period, after the creation of the Baha’i sect, were less noticeable.” Two days later, the Iran Student Correspondents Association (ISCA) published comments from a discussion with mid-level cleric Mojtaba Kashani, a member of the central parliamentary organization Ansar-e Hezbollah, during which Mr. Kashani, introduced by ISCA as “a specialist in religious affairs,” stated, “The best way to eliminate the religious values associated with an event like ‘Ashura – an event that is part and parcel of an exalted Islamic foundation and the principles of religious knowledge – is to make these rituals and ceremonies of mourning completely meaningless and empty.” He then confidently declared, “A large measure of the harm that has befell some of the eulogies and mourning ceremonies in the last ten years has been deliberate and premeditated, and without a doubt, Baha’ism and the CIA have had a major influence in this regard.”
I can only say [in the words of Rumi], “amazement upon amazement came with such tales.” On the one hand, hearing this new idea repeated by two men two days apart from one another suggests that there is some level of centralized planning or collaboration taking place in the area of anti-Baha’ism in Iran which suits what is happening on a given day. On the other hand, this collaboration is not very careful when it comes to details: One cleric connects “the inappropriate behaviors” during ‘Ashura with the birth of the Baha’i religion in Qajar Iran, while the other states that “the harm” Baha’is have perpetrated against ‘Ashura occurred in the last ten years. What is more, all of these statements are being made when two Baha’is imprisoned in northern Iran are being punished for refusing to participate in ‘Ashura mourning rituals! (for more on this recent development, see here)
The Friday prayer leader in Isfahan did not explain just how Baha’is introduced new “innovations” in the ‘Ashura ceremonies during the Qajar period. Nor did the Iran Student Correspondents Association (ISCA) seek an answer to the question of precisely what role the Baha’is have had in recent decades “to render meaningless” the mourning rituals of millions of Shi’a in Iran. One did not ask and the other did not say since they are both well aware that their reports are absurd and utterly baseless. They know well that what they seek to destroy is the Baha’i name. How this is to be done or how fatuous and inconsistent their means may be matters not.
Perhaps these gentlemen are aware that the Baha’i Writings speak of all of the Shi’i Imams, and in particular Imam Husayn, with deep love and respect, and that Baha’is have a special Tablet of Visitation for Imam Husayn that is profoundly beautiful. In my opinion, these strange lies may have been fabricated as a result of a certain trepidation on the part of the clerics about the effect that the same Tablet of Visitation can have on the hearts of the Shi’a, together with a fear on their part that Iranians will realize that in contrast to what their religious leaders have shown them, Baha’is are in full harmony with the values of true Islam.
Such accusations about ‘Ashura mourning rituals are slung despite the fact that Baha’is each year mourn and commemorate peacefully and quietly the observance of the passing of their faith’s Founder and the martyrdom of His forerunner. Moreover, in accordance with their religious precepts, Baha’is abstain from uncontrollable outbursts at the passing of family members or friends. The memorial gatherings held by Baha’is to commemorate someone’s passing testify to this. These gatherings are dedicated to prayer and meditation – meditation on the fact that we too will one day die just as the person whose death we are today mourning. If there is one thing Baha’is are eager to spread among their countrymen, it is this spirit of thoughtful reflection. Don’t accuse them of promoting self-flagellation!